This section on the making of gold is included Century IV of Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum, or a Naturall Historie in ten Centuries… London, 1627, which was part of Bacon’s unfinished Instauratio Magna.
This text was transcribed by Marcus Williamson.
Experiment Solitary, touching the Making of Gold.
The World hath been much abused by the Opinion of Making of Gold: The Worke it selfe I judge to be possible; But the Meanes (hitherto propounded) to effect it, are, in the Practice, full of Errour and Imposture; And in the Theory, full of unsound Imaginations.
For to say, that Nature hath an Intention to make all Metals Gold; and that, if she were delivered from Impedients, she would perform her owne Worke; And that, if the Crudities, Impurities, and Leprosities of Metals were cured, they would become Gold ; And that a little Quantity of the medicine, in the Worke of Projection,will turne a Sea of the baser Metall into Gold, by Multiplying: All these are but dreams: And so are many other Grounds of Alchymy. And to help the Matter, the Alchymists call in likewise many Vanities, out of Astrology, Naturall Magicke; Superstitious Interpretations of Scriptures; Auricular Traditions ; Faigned Testimonies of Ancient Authors; And the like.
It is true, on the other side, they have brought to light not a few profitable Experiments, and thereby made the World some amends. But we, when we shall come to handle the Version & Transmutation of Bodies; And the Experiments concerning Metals, and Mineralls; will lay open the true Wayes and Passages of Nature, which may lead to this great Effect. And we commend the wit of the Chineses, who despaire of Making of Gold, but are Mad upon the Making of Silver: For certain it is, that it is more difficult to make Gold, (which is the most Ponderous and Materiate amongst Metalls) of other Metalls, lesse Ponderous, and lesse Materiate; than (via versa) to make Silver of Lead, or Quick-Silver; both which are more Ponderous than Silver; So that they need rather a further Degree of Fixation, than any Condensation.
In the meane time, by Occasion of Handling the Axiomes touching Maturation, we will direct a Triall touching the Maturing of Metalls, and thereby turning some of them into Gold: For wee conceive indeed, that a perfect good Concoction, or Disgestion or Maturation of some Metalls, will produce Gold. And here wee call to Minde that we knew a Dutch-man, that had wrought himself into the Beleefe of a great Person, by undertaking that he could make Gold: Whose discousse was, that Gold might be made; But that the Alchymists Over-fired the Worke: For (he said) the Making of Gold did require a very temperate Heat, as being in Nature a Subterrany Worke, where little Heat cometh; But yet more to the Making of Gold, than of any other Metall; And therefore, that he would doe it with a great Lamp, that should carry a Temperate and Equall Heat: And that it was the Work of many Moneths.
The Device of the Lampe was folly; But the Over-firing now used; And the Equall Heat to be required; And the Making it a Worke of some good Time; are no ill Discourses. We resort therefore to our Axiomes of Maturation, in Effect touched before.
The First is, that there be used a Temperate Heat; For they are ever Temperate Heats that Disgest, and Mature: Wherein we meane Temperate, according to the Nature of the Subject ; For that may be Temperate to Fruits, and Liquours, which will not Worke at all upon Metalls.
The Second is, that the Spirit of the Metall be quickened, and the Tangible Parts opened: For without those two Operations, the Spirit of the Metall, wrought upon, will not be able to disgest the parts.
The Third is that the Spirits doe spread themselves Even, and move not Subsultorily; For that will make the Parts Close, and Pliant. And this requireth a Heat, that doth not rise and fall, but continue as Equall as may be.
The Fourth is, that no Part of the Spirit be emitted, but detained: For if there be emission of Spirit, the Body of the Metall will be Hard, and Churlish. And this will be performed, partly by the Temper of the Fire; And partly by the closenesse of the Vessell.
The Fifth is, that there be Choice made of the likeliest and best prepared Metall, for the Version: For that will facilitate the Worke.
The Sixth is, that you give Time enough for the Worke: Not to prolong Hopes (as the Alchymists doe;) but indeed to give Nature a convenient Space to worke in.
These Principles are most certaine, and true; We will now derive a direction of Triall out of them; Which may (perhaps) by further Meditation, be improved. Let there be a Small Furnace made, of a Temperate Heat; Let the Heat be such, as may keep the Metall perpetually Moulten, and no more; For that above all importeth to the Work.
For the Materiall, take Silver, which is the Metall that in Nature Symbolizeth most with Gold; Put in also, with the Silver, a Tenth Part of Quick-silver, and Twelfth Part of Nitre, by weight; Both these to quicken and open the Body of the Metall: And so let the Worke be continued by the Space of Sixe Monthes, at the least. I wish also, that there be, at some times, and Injection of some Oyled Substance; such as they use in Recovering of Gold, which by Vexing with Separations hath beene made Churlish: And this is, to lay the Parts more Close and Smooth, which is the Maine Work.
For Gold (as we see) is the Closest (and therefore the Heaviest) of Metalls: And is likewise the most Flexible and Tensible.
Note, that to thinke to make Gold of Quick-silver, because it is the heaviest, is a Thing not to bee hoped; For Quick-silver will not endure the Mannage of the Fire. Next to Silver, I thinke Copper were fittest to bee the Materiall. Gold hath these Natures: Greatnesse of Weight; Closeness of Parts; Fixation; Pliantnesse, or softnesse; Immunitie from Rust; Colour or Tincture of Yellow. Therefore the Sure Way, (though most about,) to make Gold, is to know the Causes of the Severall Natures before rehearsed, and the Axiomes concerning the same.
For if a man can make a Metall, that hath all these Properties, Let men dispute, whether it be Gold, or no?